Shep Hyken is one of the most recognizable experts on everything customer service.

He’s written bestselling books, given talks around the world, and consulted for hundreds of companies–from Fortune 100s to mom-and-pop shops.

His most recent accomplishment? Generously giving his time to speak with us on customer success.

EJ: What’s a good way to think about customer success?

SHEP: I’ll give you a great example. I bought a computer back in the early 1980s when computers were just rolling out. And I’ll never forget the salesperson who said to me,

“My job–no matter how cool you think this is now–is to make sure that when you go home, this computer doesn’t end up in a closet collecting dust because you can’t figure out how it works.”

Right there, without even thinking about it, she was practicing customer success.

So here’s what happens: in my mind, we need to make it easy for our customers to be successful with our products, whether it’s computers, software, or any other product.

You want to get them to success as quickly as possible, with as little hassle or friction as possible.

So that’s what customer success is–making your customers successful. It’s another layer of customer service and part of a great overall experience.

EJ: Why is it important to deliver a great customer experience?

SHEP: If you look at the customer service stats and facts, you would think “Wow, it seems there’s more disgruntled customers than ever before.”

A number bantered around earlier this year was that 64 billion dollars was lost due to poor customer service, up almost 50% from 2 years ago. And those numbers would make you feel as if customer service is heading down.

But the reality is it’s not–it’s actually getting better.

What’s changing, however, are the expectations that customers have. I think that’s a big big statement right there. Expectations are outpacing many companies’ ability to catch up to the new norm.

By the way, these expectations are coming from great companies that set the bar high for everyone else. So, that’s something to consider–just to be competitive, you have to deliver great service and be very cognizant of your customer’s journey.

Now, in a recurring revenue model, you’re trying to get people to sign up month after month, or year after year. So you have to continuously prove to that customer that they’ve made the right decision to do business with you.

EJ: How does addressing expectations play into sales and marketing efforts?

SHEP: When we invest a little bit of money into people’s success with a product and they’re happy with it, guess what happens: they talk about it.

The best marketing we have is not what we promise a customer on a website or an advertisement. It’s when a customer has success, and tells their colleagues, their friends, the people they work with how great the product is. And how great we are in doing business with them.

EJ: What trends do customer success teams really need to embrace?

SHEP: There’s a growing trend towards personalization. Great companies today are able to take the individual and personalize their messages.

This personalization comes from the data that you pick up on your customers. Both as an overall customer group–which is your big data, your macro data–as well as the micro data that you pick up on individual customers.

Go on Amazon and you receive a personalized experience. “Hey welcome back! Last time you were here, this is what you looked at…”

So, what’s happening is that machines are being able to deliver a great personal experience. Some of it’s human-like, some of it’s more automated. But it’s an experience—it’s easy and intuitive because a person designed it for a person to use.

EJ: Do automated communications take away from the ability to connect with a customer?

SHEP: Remember that you need to make sure–as quickly as possible–that the customer made the right decision to do business with you. You can send an email, pick up the phone, or even do it face-to-face.

I don’t even have a problem with a message that says:

“Hi, I’m so and so, the automated computer that is supporting this company. It’s my job to reach out to you today to tell you what your options are if you have any problems. And occasionally, I’m going to check in with you, to see how things are going and remind you we’re here when you need us.”

I have no problem with something informal like that. The trouble is when it’s a standard form letter that’s boring, and it’s obviously just a communication piece that hasn’t been given a lot of thought.

Regardless of how you reach out, always speak the customer’s language so they easily understand you. Personalize the message with the language that your customers use.

EJ: So is it safe to say that the message is more important than the medium?

SHEP: I would agree. Today, companies are getting programs that are so good that you can’t tell the difference between the human and the machine. And I think that’s great. The mode of communication really depends on the type of business you are, but the message is crucial.

EJ: How does a data-focused approach fit with the notion of understanding through empathy?

SHEP: If you’re using the right system, data can help you be more empathetic. And it can actually help you understand the customer’s feelings, sentiment, emotions. That’s the beauty of a strong data analytics program.

It’s about the balance between what you can personalize. Data is now helping us understand customers and be even more empathetic. And the end result is that the customer gets a better experience.

EJ: Is customer loyalty the ultimate goal of customer success?

SHEP: Everyone thinks that loyalty is about “I’m going to get this customer to come back for the rest of their life, every time they need whatever it is I sell.” And that’s not always realistic.

Do you go to a particular restaurant on a somewhat regular basis? Sure, but you don’t go to it every time you’re hungry. That’s proof that loyalty doesn’t mean buying from the same person every time you need something.

However, in most businesses we can define loyalty not in terms of a lifetime, but in terms of the next time. So, you need to be good enough today to make sure the customer comes back to you instead of the competitor the next time they need something.

And that breaks loyalty down into something much more manageable. This moment, based on what’s going to happen next time, not the lifetime.

How you ask is everything.

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